The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association on Wednesday confirmed plans to start the winter sports season as scheduled, with practices beginning on Friday, and game competition set to open Dec. 11.
Guidance from the PIAA’s sports medicine committee, which was approved by the organization’s board of governors, indicates an intention to move forward “with an abundance of caution” because of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi noted that the guidance also mentions the desire to take a “balanced approach with respect to public-interest in each community.”
Lombardi said the PIAA recommends that decisions on winter sports be made by each school district, the same approach the organization took for fall sports.
“We’re 10 days from the end of the fall season,” Lombardi said in reference to the last day of the state football championships, scheduled for Nov. 28 at HersheyPark Stadium. “A lot of people thought in August that we wouldn’t even be able to get started. But schools proved that it can be done and done safely.”
In Philadelphia, the start of winter sports for high school teams is expected to be delayed until Jan. 1 at the earliest. That’s the date set for a possible return to competition by the Public League, which suspended interscholastic competition in August.
In addition, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which oversees most members of the Catholic League, has issued a statement indicating its schools would follow recent guidelines from the City of Philadelphia that will require virtual-only learning as well as suspension of extracurricular activities until Jan. 1.
James Lynch, executive athletic director for the Philadelphia school district, said the Public League’s plan for a return to competition aligns with new guidelines from the city. Lynch said the Public League still hopes to stage all three sports seasons between January and June, with a tentative plan for winter sports to be followed by fall sports and then spring sports.
La Salle College High School athletic director Joe Parisi, the basketball chairman for the Catholic League, said Tuesday that the league would await guidance from the PIAA before formulating its plan for winter sports such as basketball.
The two most anticipated events on the Catholic League sports calendar, the boys’ basketball semifinals and the boys’ and girls’ basketball finals — both of which are traditionally played before near-capacity crowds of about 8,000 at the Palestra — could be in jeopardy in 2021 because of restrictions on indoor gatherings and spectators at sporting events.
Lombardi said the PIAA has reached out to Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration for clarification with regard to a mask mandate issued Tuesday by state health secretary Rachel Levine, who ordered that people wear masks when with anyone outside their own households.
Lombardi noted that the wearing of masks could create health risks for athletes, especially those with underlying conditions such as asthma as well as those competing in sports such as wrestling and swimming.
PIAA assistant director Melissa Mertz said the organization will seek “additional guidance” from the state on the mask mandate.
“It’s a serous issue with regard to swimming,” Mertz said. “You think about a swimmer, turning her head to get oxygen, it could result in a serious medical complication if there’s not an exception granted” to wearing a mask.